Washington trip Americana stars Brandy Clark and Brandi Carlile have well-documented histories with the Grammys. The two artists with the same first name and home state have more than 40 nominations between them over the past decade.
With similar country-adjacent leanings and shared Northwest roots, the Brandies’ paths to Music’s Biggest Night first crossed two years ago when they were nominated for two songs together: their sizzling duet “Same Devil” and “A Beautiful Noise,” a tune with Carlile and Alicia Keys that Clark co-wrote.
None of them won. But it paved the way for a much deeper collaboration when, during the ceremony, Carlile approached Clark, who grew up in Morton, about letting her produce Clark’s next album. Nowgets Clark and Carlile another chance to take home Golden Gramophones for their latest duet, “Dear Insecurity,” nominated for Best Americana Performance and Best American Roots Song.
The chilly piano ballad is a highlight from Clark’s self-titled album — an unvarnished collection featuring some of her rawest and most uninhibited work, leading to five of her six total Grammy nominations, announced Friday. (Read about the rest of the local nominees here.) The Carlile-produced album is up for Best Americana Album, a first for Clark after her first three albums were nominated in the country category.
The idea for the song, written as a letter to self-doubt, came to Clark while driving through Los Angeles traffic. Clark, who splits her time between Malibu and Nashville, where she cut her teeth in the songwriting world, was on her way to a writing session with Michael Pollack — a hit-penning songwriter who also co-wrote Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers.” for song and record of the year.
“Someone had really hurt my feelings that morning, and I was trying to get over that in my head before I got to writing,” Clark said in an interview this spring. “I thought about something a really good friend of mine always says — that insecurity is the ugliest human emotion, and that when someone is mean to us, it typically goes back to their insecurity.”
The wheels start turning in Clark’s head, if not on the gridlocked LA freeway, about her own insecurities and relationships they’ve destroyed. When she came to the session, Pollack was on board with the “letter to uncertainty” premise. They came up with the vocal and piano parts that day, and Clark knew right away that they had something.
“I left feeling like we had a great song,” she said. “Sometimes it takes a while to know, but I felt it that day. I knew I wanted to record it.”
More than just a good tune, Clark also left feeling like she had something important to say—a feeling confirmed during a conversation with longtime record executive Lenny Waronker.
“He said to me, ‘Boy, these new songs, they’re your most vulnerable,'” Clark recalled. “It struck me as really weird because I had done ‘Your Life is a Record,’ which was a breakup record. I didn’t know you could get more vulnerable than that. He says, ‘Those songs are about breaking up a relationship. … ‘Dear Insecurity,’ it’s about you. It’s as vulnerable as you could be about you.’
When Clark and Carlile entered Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La Studio in Malibu, Carlile suggested recording it as a duet, but not with her. They kicked around a few names and eventually landed on an unnamed artist they wanted to approach after Carlile recorded some scratch vocals. Great plan, only one problem: Carlile’s attitude was damn good.
“I was so moved, not only by what [Carlile] song, but of what we did together,” Clark said. “So I went home and thought, ‘Boy, I’ve got a problem now because she’s got her heart set on this other artist and I’ve got my heart set on her.’
Clark spent the night tossing and turning, wondering how she would broach the subject with Carlile.
“The next day I was like, ‘Hey Brandi, I know you really want artist X on this and it’s such a great idea. But I’ll be honest. I really want you,'” Clark said . “She’s like, ‘Oh dude, that’s all you had to say. It’s done.'”
Later, when Carlile and her band were in New York getting ready to play “Saturday Night Live,” Carlile’s string quartet of Sista Strings, Portland’s Kyleen King and Seattle cellist Josh Neumann laid down their parts and added wind to the song’s wings. Although Carlile’s vocals were originally intended as a placeholder, they left them as is.
“That was another place Brandi challenged me,” Clark said. “I love a perfect vocal and she loves a completely honest vocal. There were things I wanted to sing again [on the album] and she would say, ‘No, we’re leaving it. I feel something.’ And it was one of those times. Once again, she was right to keep things raw and imperfect.”
Whether or not Clark and Carlile take home a trophy at the 66th Annual Grammy Awards in February, it’s already clear that Washington’s favorite brandy is a winning combination.